Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Communications Government Privacy United States

NSA CS Man: My Tracking Algorithm Was 'Twisted' By the Government 267

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can-trust-us dept.
decora writes "Crypto-mathematician Bill Binney worked in the Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center at the NSA. There, he worked on NSA's ThinThread program; a way to monitor the flood of internet data from outside the US while protecting the privacy of US citizens. In a new interview with Jane Mayer, he says his program 'got twisted. ... I should apologize to the American people. It's violated everyone's rights. It can be used to eavesdrop on the whole world. ... my people were brought in, and they told me, "Can you believe they're doing this? They're getting billing records on US citizens! They're putting pen registers on everyone in the country!"'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

NSA CS Man: My Tracking Algorithm Was 'Twisted' By the Government

Comments Filter:
  • Oh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Troke (1612099) on Monday May 16, 2011 @07:44PM (#36147120)
    I'm shocked. The US government would never do something like that ever! A shame this will never reach +5 Sarcastic
    • I'd say you'd be better off with +5 informative, just in case they're listening.

      • by lexsird (1208192)

        I am sure they are. (listening) If they have those capabilities, why not make a hyperactive spyder to run about checking for key phrases? Catalog what it finds and produce a report to whomever or whatever is in charge. At some point, I would imagine having the A.I. take charge if it already hasn't, would help sift through this kind of horrible exposure for them.

        It/they will check every post/link/comment and evaluate it for threat level, after they have establish who you are. If you are of the proper threat

    • by Weezul (52464)

      There is a much better link fest on this subject over at metafilter [metafilter.com], maybe more informed comments too. ;)

    • Re:Oh? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by blair1q (305137) on Monday May 16, 2011 @08:07PM (#36147342) Journal

      I'm shocked that we haven't launched prosecutions of most of the Bush Administration over its mis-handling of everything related to security and the Constitution.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by khallow (566160)

        I'm shocked that we haven't launched prosecutions of most of the Bush Administration over its mis-handling of everything related to security and the Constitution.

        Just because something is unconstitutional doesn't mean that the perpetrator performed a criminal (and hence, prosecutable act). Plus, I gather Obama doesn't want to establish any traditions that might put himself at risk.

      • Re:Oh? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by frank_adrian314159 (469671) on Monday May 16, 2011 @08:41PM (#36147690) Homepage

        I'm shocked that we haven't launched prosecutions of most of the Bush Administration...

        So am I, but then we'd have to prosecute most of the Obama administration, which has continued the same policies. And I say that with shame as a lifelong Democrat.

        Barack Obama - best Republican president so far.

        • Re:Oh? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday May 16, 2011 @10:29PM (#36148486) Homepage

          Barack Obama - best Republican president so far.

          He's nowhere near the best Republican: Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower all come out way ahead of him. And all of those guys would be branded as complete and utter loonies in current US politics, especially their views on class, corporations and taxes. Heck, there's a good argument that Ronald Reagan wouldn't be accepted within the current Republican Party, because he allowed for some tax increases in the 1980's.

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          I never voted for him (nor for McSame), but Obama in my mind really shows how stupid voters are, though the final and real test will be if they re-nominate him in 2012. I have little hope they'll nominate someone else, judging by the comments I've seen by other Democrats, including one friend of mine who defends everything Obama does. I'm glad there's some Democrats like yourself who haven't drunk the kool-aid, but from what I'm seeing, most of them have, and it's pathetic. People who call themselves "li

          • by rhook (943951)

            Sitting presidents do not need a nomination to run for a second term.

          • by Danse (1026)

            I never voted for him (nor for McSame), but Obama in my mind really shows how stupid voters are, though the final and real test will be if they re-nominate him in 2012.

            Who else are they gonna nominate? It's pretty much Obama by default because there's nobody worth voting for that's gonna run.

        • Bush
          + much better veneer of respect for rule of law
          - revolting social policies
          ----------------
          = Obama

          He opposes most of the Bush administration's appalling social politics, he appears to at least not be certifiably insane regarding the economy, and he does a much better job of pretending to respect the rule of law.

          It tells you how low standards have fallen that, even after looking at the things that are between bad and inexcusable (Failure to prosecute wall st. for massive fraud leading to 2008 co
      • One of the greatest things about American democracy is that, however bad, corrupt, venal, stupid, misguided, or just plain evil any given administration is, they hand over the reins of power without a fight when it's over. Your approach is one very good way to make one of them, one day, not do that.

        It's a bit like the treatment of Pinochet. Yes, nasty dude. Yes, dictator. But he did hand over power to a democratically elected government. If the only way out for a former dictator is in a pine box, guess wha
        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          There's a difference, however.

          In Pinochet's case, he handed power over to a government totally unlike his, and which was democratically elected.

          In America, we never hand power over to a different government. It's all the same. We just change the guy at the top every four years, but there's no real difference between him and the last guy. Basically, after 8 years on the job, he's ready to retire in comfort, and passes the job over to one of his hand-picked successors, whom the media has complicitly gotten

      • Re:Oh? (Score:5, Informative)

        by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday May 16, 2011 @10:23PM (#36148450) Homepage

        Or, you know, Dick Cheney's commission of what we considered war crimes when the Germans and Japanese did it in the 1940's. It's an open-and-shut case: We have video footage and transcripts [go.com] of him telling the world all about the crimes he committed on national television.

        Don't forget, though, we need to Look forward, not backward [youtube.com]. And they hate us for our freedoms [youtube.com]. It has nothing to do with committing crimes with impunity [bbc.co.uk], killing children and civilians [youtube.com], or supporting [youtube.com] dictators [wsws.org] in their country.

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        Why would Obama want to do anything to hurt his good buddy Bush? In case you haven't noticed, Obama is doing everything almost exactly like Bush, and in some cases much worse: Bush never prosecuted any NSA whistleblowers, while Obama, who on the campaign trail praised whistleblowers, is prosecuting more of them than any administration in history: http://www.npr.org/2011/05/11/136173262/case-against-wikileaks-part-of-broader-campaign [npr.org]

        Obama is even worse on the Constitution than Bush was; he's not going to p

    • Everybody knows that the US government intercepts the world's communications. If they now do the same to Americans, it just seems fair.
      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        I have to agree. If Americans don't want to be spied on then they should also be opposed to spying on foreigners as well.

        Similarly, if Americans are upset that American soldiers are dying in war then I would hope that they're equally upset that foreign soldiers are dying. The idea that Americans are somehow better than other people is an outdated notion.

        • I have to agree. If Americans don't want to be spied on then they should also be opposed to spying on foreigners as well.

          It's an interesting contradiction. The American people have the rights they have because they demand them from their government, but foreigners can't really demand anything from the US government because it's not their government...

          Screw it, it works for us! wait..

          The idea that Americans are somehow better than other people is an outdated notion.

          You're just talking about nationalism, every country that fields an army has it. You just hear about Americans doing it because either you're an American, or because our media is so loud, or because your media pays attention to what we're doing

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      There are people who actually believe that. That is the problem.
  • In other news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Monday May 16, 2011 @07:45PM (#36147126)
    ... cryptologist Bill Binney was found dead today in his New York apartment the victim of an apparent accident.
    • by LilGuy (150110)
      Two bullets went through the anterior of his skull causing massive brain hemorrhaging and severe head trauma. It has been ruled a suicide.
      • by milkmage (795746)

        those bullets were on the street.. he must have fallen on them.

      • Just like Vince Foster!
      • Re:In other news (Score:4, Insightful)

        by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Monday May 16, 2011 @08:38PM (#36147658) Journal

        Nah, they usually go for the old "suicide" route, like that reporter a couple of years back that slit his wrists in the tub. the problem was if anybody would have bothered to find out about the guy first they would have found out he had blood phobia so bad his family said he would pass out if he pricked his finger. Kinda doubt a guy that couldn't stand the sight of blood would go for a slow bleed out.

        As for TFA, is anybody surprised? We have seen the enemy and he is us. Ever since the end of WWI (where before WWII we were like 37th on the list of militarily sizes) the USA has been nothing but a giant power grab, hell look at the FBI with COINTELPRO. With that one they went as far as actually executing a Black Panther for not staying in his place, does it surprise ANYONE that our government is right up there with China when it comes to spying on its own people?

        I'm sure they'll claim its to "catch pedos/terrorists" and get Nancy Grace and all the talking heads to cheer for it if this little setback actually causes any flak, but with the megacorps who are in bed with the government owning the media I doubt this will even make the evening news. That is why voting today is pretty much pointless past the local level, the megacorps will make sure only properly bribed choices are allowed. Anyone you vote for, whether D or R, will continue to give lip service to "freedom" and "privacy" while continuing the status quo. See Obama and warrantless wiretaps for example.

        • by Plekto (1018050)

          The more you learn about what really goes on in the U.S., the more you realize how closely it resembles ancient Rome.

          Corrupt? What's amazing is that the people actually believe that our leaders *aren't* corrupt by default.

          • by tnk1 (899206)

            The more you learn about what really goes on in the U.S., the more you realize how closely it resembles ancient Rome.

            Corrupt? What's amazing is that the people actually believe that our leaders *aren't* corrupt by default.

            They don't? I don't know anyone who doesn't believe they are corrupt. But for some reason, lots of people want the government to run more and more things for us.

            • If by "more and more things" you're referring to e.g. healthcare and internet access, the only other option would be to have them run by massive corporations. We can debate all day which would be worse... at least government officials can potentially be voted out.

              • by Fjandr (66656)

                The only reason corporations can no longer be held to account through complete legal dissolution is because of the politicians and those they appoint. Then again, the root fault for those politicians is the people who elected them.

                No matter who is in control, the fault rests with the masses. They get what they deserve. Unfortunately, those who don't agree get what everyone else deserves, too.

                Either politicians or corporations can "potentially" be voted out (votes or money, if the difference matters to you),

                • by ianare (1132971)

                  No matter who is in control, the fault rests with the masses. They get what they deserve.

                  As having the most powerful military and economy in the history of the human race, the American public also has a responsability to the rest of the world. Your comment could make sense for a small country that has very limited outside influence, but not for the US.

                  The choices of the US electorate have very far ranging repercussions indeed. The mortgage crisis and subsequent economic turmoil caused by it being a prime example of America's poor choices screwing the whole world over.

                  • by Fjandr (66656)

                    Are you arguing the fault does not ultimately rest with the populace, or that they are getting more (or less) than they deserve? I limited my assumption regarding to which you were referring, since those are the two possibilities from the quote. I suppose it could mean something else as well...

    • by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Monday May 16, 2011 @07:59PM (#36147272)

      Binney had been acting strangely in recent weeks, according to unnamed sources. Reports of paranoid rants about "government monitoring everyone" were a common theme among associates.

      Binney was found wearing nothing but a bathrobe and a cockring, although investigators found several hundred dollars sewn into his bathrobe, as well as two phone numbers - one for "Belle du Jour Exotic Dance Palace" and the other to "Dave's 24 Hour Falafel Delivery". Investigators also found a "huge" porn stash in his apartment, and several copies of porn star Ron Jeremy's auto-biography, "Ron Jeremy: The Hardest (Working) Man in Showbiz".

      What disturbed investigators most, however, was a hidden cache of 73 cases of Zima. "What could one man possibly need with that much Zima?," said one bewildered and slightly shaken-looking young investigator. Older investigators are wondering about the significance of the number 73.

      Binney was quoted as saying, "I'm not dead yet!" but we were unable to confirm that at press-time.

      • heya,

        I might be too young, but was that a movie reference(s)?

        Hmm, or is 73 meant to be 23, as in Jim Carrey's film?

        Cheers,
        Victor

    • by Palmsie (1550787) on Monday May 16, 2011 @08:03PM (#36147312)

      In other news, rape charges were brought against Bill Binney today, he has also openly admitted he is a homosexual, a pedophile, and an atheist. His wife has also left him because he has suffered from severe psychological disorders for several decades.

      +5 Propaganda machine.

    • Re:In other news (Score:5, Insightful)

      by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday May 16, 2011 @08:18PM (#36147446)
      Would now be a bad time to point out that the second paragraph neatly explains how he's going to die, and that it will be soon? He's probably coming forward because he knows he doesn't have much time left. The agency doesn't have to kill him, nature will do it soon enough and without all the fussing, paperwork, and conspiracy theories.
    • by l0ungeb0y (442022)

      So close. Actually, it's being reported the he was found dead just an hour ago on the sidewalk outside his apartment from apparent asphalt poisoning.

    • by Jonner (189691)

      ... cryptologist Bill Binney was found dead today in his New York apartment the victim of an apparent accident.

      I think you need to give the NSA more credit than that. If they want him to be ignored, they'll work something so that he seems crazy or corrupt.

  • I'm more surprised that this guy went out and said it, and we are hearing about this, instead of the news itself. What happened to the binding paperwork and consequences?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Maybe he is one of the few people out there that actually give a fuck about the constitution.

    • by russotto (537200)

      I'm more surprised that this guy went out and said it, and we are hearing about this, instead of the news itself. What happened to the binding paperwork and consequences?

      He's 67 and in poor health. He may figure there's little they can do to him.

  • All I've got to say to this is "Well duh.. what the hell did you think they would do with it, Bill?"
    • All I've got to say to this is "Well duh.. what the hell did you think they would do with it, Bill?"

      Catch terrorists. What do you think he was told when he was working on the project, that they were planning to spy on Americans?

  • Pen registers (Score:5, Informative)

    by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Monday May 16, 2011 @08:01PM (#36147280) Homepage
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pen_register [wikipedia.org]

    A pen register is an electronic device that records all numbers called from a particular telephone line. The term has come to include any device or program that performs similar functions to an original pen register, including programs monitoring Internet communications.

    The USA statutes governing pen registers are codified under 18 U.S.C., Chapter 206 [cornell.edu].

  • by Altus (1034) on Monday May 16, 2011 @08:02PM (#36147300) Homepage

    Sounds like its working just as designed.

    • Re:Twisted? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by blair1q (305137) on Monday May 16, 2011 @08:08PM (#36147356) Journal

      Hmm.

      I designed a gun.

      No, no, no! You're supposed to point it away from you.

      • by grcumb (781340)

        Hmm.

        I designed a gun.

        No, no, no! You're supposed to point it away from you.

        Correction: You're supposed to point it away from me.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      Sounds like its working just as designed.

      Not very good, though... they are still searching for anything related on how those cables got uploaded to Wikileaks (i.e. there's still hope).

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      dunno, seems it's working better than possible, or at least he thinks it is(sure, it tracks, but what and how? my erratic speech patterns? my ssl connections that happen to pass via usa? sounds like a system that just gets more expensive as days go by, and like stasi all choices would need to be done by a human at some point).

      if the billing data exists within usa, it's accessible by the usa goverment, doh. but monitoring intelligently everyone's random bits, bullshit. and by the way if you're worried about

  • What, did they think they could do that and get away with it?

    "Well, YES."

  • Hopefully people will learn from this and avoid similar mistakes in the future. I am reminded of the professor [wikipedia.org] from Atlas Shrugged.

  • That's GREAT (Score:4, Informative)

    by owlstead (636356) on Monday May 16, 2011 @08:50PM (#36147790)

    For some reason US citizens always only think of themselves. Personally, I think it is great that they treat themselves as they do other human beings on the planet. It may bring some hard needed reflections on how technology is abused (but I'm not holding my breath).

  • If he'd just watched Good Will Hunting, he could have seen this coming.
    • by ArcCoyote (634356)

      More like A Beautiful Mind

      You do realize a lot of these cryptographers are borderline psychotic while they are employed by agencies such as the NSA, and eventually progress into genuine mental illness.

      From TFA:
      "Binney, who is six feet three, is a bespectacled sixty-seven-year-old man with wisps of dark hair; he has the quiet, tense air of a preoccupied intellectual. Now retired and suffering gravely from diabetes, which has already claimed his left leg, he agreed recently to speak publicly for the first tim

      • by qubezz (520511)
        Likely all data is collected for later 'tapping'. That's like a paedophile saying his hard drive full of child porn is not illegal because he rarely opens files on it, and then he only looks at the faces.
    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Specifically, this scene [youtube.com].

  • by loshwomp (468955) on Monday May 16, 2011 @09:31PM (#36148128)

    The Bush people have been let off. The telecom companies got immunity. The only people Obama has prosecuted are the whistle-blowers.

  • Room 641A (Score:5, Interesting)

    by br00tus (528477) on Monday May 16, 2011 @09:51PM (#36148256)
    I don't think people unfamiliar with telecommunications realize how significant the Room 641A [wikipedia.org] revelation was. Before the so-called Patriot Act took effect, the capability to tap all Americans phone calls and Internet traffic did not exist. Now it does - it is sitting in "points of presence" around the country - before a voice call leaves the LATA, a fiber split happens, where half your call goes to the party your calling, the other half heads to the NSA. This did not exist before 2001-2003. As far as Internet traffic, half of your packets going out and coming in go to the carriers peering point like MAE West, half go the NSA. I'm sure even an all data major carrier Internet transmission across the country splits off to one of these pipes before it goes over the high-speed continental pipeline.

    Who knows about how this stuff works besides people like us and telecom people? Even this technician at AT&T didn't know exactly what was going on. Funny enough, the discovery came about because he wanted to make sure the people working in this room were working according to CWA union rules. The unions - the last remnants of ordinary worker's organization and input into a company, which is now almost totally under the control of the top corporate management and ownership, and apparently, the government and its spy agencies.

    As far as people saying this is to keep Americans safe from foreign terrorists - is that why Nixon had his guys break into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate? Is that why Clinton had the FBI send him various political opponents files, or Sandy Berger was sneaking documents out of the National Archives? Or why Martin Luther King had his rooms bugged by the FBI, when what he wanted was to non-violently work for the right to vote - a right blacks theoretically had under the Constitution? In 2006 a movie called "The Lives of Others" came out, condemning the Stasi in communist East Germany for creating a police state. While American critics feel good about themselves condemning the apparatus of a police state from ancient history, one is growing in the phone companies of America. Before 2001-2003, the US did not have an internal Stasi-like phone system - now it does. There's no reason to be hyperbolic about it, it is just that the government and corporate telecommunications monopolies are attempting to remove a right to privacy and freedom we once had.

    • Re:Room 641A (Score:4, Informative)

      by moonbender (547943) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <rednebnoom>> on Monday May 16, 2011 @10:45PM (#36148596)

      Thanks for that. Watching the PBS Frontline episode [pbs.org] on that whole thing now.

    • by toby (759)

      "In 2006 a movie called "The Lives of Others" came out, condemning the Stasi in communist East Germany for creating a police state"

      Not really; it merely depicted a loosely fictionalised East Germany. The story and character studies were quite enjoyable but really very little of substance was stated about the Stasi; nor did the movie intend to. It was a mood piece.

      Final condemnation of the Stasi, and American plutocracy (in particular recent Presidents and their puppeteers) will come from histories, jus

  • by kikito (971480)

    If he (or any of his coworkers) thought the NSA was doing something illegal, they should have gone to the judge, not to the journalists.

  • I've become too boring for anyone to care. Not on purpose, I just don't care enough that much about anything important besides my family. Yeah, I still vote. I'll write an occasional letter to the paper. I've even written my Congress/Senate critters. Does any seem to make any difference? Nope. I got one, just one, reply where the staffer actually read my letter and wrote back something not in form letter fashion. Bill still passed anyway. Bleh.

  • Thanks, Bush.

    And thanks, Obama, for continuing it.

Badges? We don't need no stinking badges.

Working...